My take on Clinton

Another chapter in flak-catching from right and left

During Watergate I received many letters calling me a "leftist." These days some of my critics are calling me a member of the "far right." Let me say right here that I'm an independent and have been registered as such for nearly 40 years. And I have always tried to be guided by the "try to be fair" advice that for years was printed in big letters on the front of my old Royal typewriter.

Indeed, during the 28 years I have been writing this weekly column I have had only two periods when readers in sizable quantities were charging me with being unfair - back in the later Nixon years and now.

Back then many readers accused me of being out to "get" Nixon; now, it seems at least some of you good people think I'm out to "get" President Clinton.

Actually, I was saddened by what these presidents did to themselves. More than that, the American people are always hurt when a president puts the country through a scandal of such proportions.

Nixon was distracted and, no matter how hard Mr. Clinton tries to indicate otherwise, he is also distracted. He has to be. He has to know that his place in history is at stake.

A longtime friend of mine - Washington Post columnist David Broder - has also been under attack from critics for being unfair to Clinton.

Mr. Broder was once picked by his fellow journalists as the most moderate and fair-minded among all Washington columnists. At the University of Chicago years ago, Broder was given this nickname by his buddies: "Middle-of-the-Roader Broder."

Broder writes that when he first learned about the Monica Lewinsky story he was "shocked" by the "recklessness" of Clinton's behavior.

Broder then adds: "As Clinton continued to dodge and weave, the self-inflicted damage to the moral authority of the presidency grew." And in a recent widely quoted interview, Broder says that Clinton has "trashed" Washington.

I echo those views. Clinton's recklessness has been unbelievable. I think he has trashed Washington, the American people, and the presidency.

How do I account for his continued popularity? I can't. But most Americans, it seems, still think he's doing a good job and would love it if columnists would get off his back.

Actually, a lot of people who support Clinton have been embarrassed by his conduct - but still stick with him. They seem to be saying, "Yes, he's a rogue. But he's our rogue."

Broder writes that he was "appalled" last May when Clinton declined to answer this press conference question: "Does it matter if you have committed perjury or broken that law?"

"The rule of law," says Broder, "requires any American to give truthful testimony when sworn as a witness in a legal proceeding ... and no one is above the law."

I have taken that position, too, again and again.

Some readers have called me "sanctimonious" for maintaining that Clinton has broken the moral law as well as the law of our courts.

I don't accept the "everyone does it" excuse.

Call me an old-timer - which I am - but I think that our presidents still have an exemplary role to play and that Clinton has set a terrible example for all our young people.

Many of my critics seem to feel that Clinton has been put through all this travail by an overzealous independent counsel.

Kenneth Starr may have gone too far at times in his effort to nail the president. But Mr. Starr didn't lie to a grand jury and to the American people.

Broder thinks Clinton should resign. I do, too.

The sky wouldn't fall. The wounded president would be gone and his vice president would take over, well-positioned to carry on the Clinton agenda.

Why, I ask, can't my critics see some merit in this scenario?

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